Vicki McLeod.

#Untrending: Balancing online and offline experiences

In her book The Power of Off, psychotherapist Nancy Colier explores mindful ways to stay sane in a virtual world.

Needless to say, Colier and I are largely singing from the same song sheet.

While technology and social media offer important ways to solve problems, communicate, and do business, they also have a shadow side.

There are more than 32 million Internet users in Canada, with 3.6 billion users worldwide. Every second, on average, around 6,000 tweets go out. Facebook users boast 100 million hours of daily video watch time and 2.8 billion people are using social media.

According to Colier, a recent study found that the average person spends approximately 12 hours per day looking at a screen, with digital media being the most ingested form.

A child born in 2013 will spend a year of his or her life in front of a screen by age seven.

I offer these statistics, not to be an alarmist, nor to make an argument against the use of digital technology. If anything, I’m an advocate for using social media to bring communities together and connect us to each other.

In recent years, however, I’ve realized that in my urgency to get clients and colleagues online and engaged in real, transparent, authentic social and digital strategies to support businesses and organizations, in my haste to offer the best practices, I had failed to recognize our basic, human needs.

While teaching people to be technically productive, I had not respected the need to be privately peaceful – to have a daily life rich with meaning apart from screens and devices. The shadow side of increasing technology use is that it robs us of the direct experience and nourishment of actual physical connection.

It also robs us of rest.

In her book, Colier discusses the impact of hyper-readiness, or what she calls the ‘prison of availability.’With our smart phones charged up 24/7, uninterrupted availability has become the norm.

Colier cites examples of the television news producer who never turns off either of his two phones, employees given cellphones with the expectations of round-the-clock access, parents who never turn their phones off ‘just in case’ and people who take their iPhones to bed, waking up in the night to check for incoming messages.

“Our new resting state is one that doesn’t allow for real rest. A part of us must always remain at the ready, as if about to leap out of the starting gate,” Colier said.

This uber-readiness is stressful, and even more than that, it may be the thin edge of an escalation leading to technology addiction.

Yes, it is a thing.

In May, I’ll be part of a panel at Social Media Camp, Canada’s largest social media conference. The title of our panel is Online-Offline Balance: Fact or Fiction? Together with digital leaders like Angela Crocker, Mike Vardy, and Bosco Anthony, we’ll be exploring how the demands of the digital world are changing our lives and relationships and we’ll attempt to answer the question: Can we find balance between our online and offline expectations and experiences?

I’m not sure I have the answers. I do know it’s an important question.

Can we approach the Internet mindfully or are we a generation of technoholics?

Vicki McLeod is an author, TEDx speaker, and award-winning entrepreneur. She is a business and personal coach and consultant. (vickimcleod.com).

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